Brandon Hilgemann: The 5 “R”s to Remembering Names of Everybody You Meet

By Brandon Hilgemann, On March 7, 2014

Brandon Hilgemann

Brandon Hilgemann

You walk into the hall after church. A young man bounces up to you and starts talking like he has known you forever. He looks familiar, but you can't remember his name to save your life.

Sound familiar?

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Remembering names is hard!

If half the people in your church knew your dirty little secret - that you don't know their name - they would be deeply offended. The bigger the church, the harder this gets.

Remembering a person's name is important. You never know how such a small detail might have a profound impact on someone's life.

I once talked to a girl about her testimony. When she was in high school, she attended a church youth group with her friend once. It was OK, but she didn't bother coming back. However, a while later her friend invited her back and she reluctantly agreed to go.

When she walked into the church, the youth pastor said hello and used her name. She was so shocked that he cared enough about her to actually remember her name that she came back every week. Eventually she gave her life to Christ.

You may try to excuse yourself saying, "I'm not good at remembering names." But I don't buy that.

Name memory is not a spiritual gift or some kind of genetic trait you inherit. People who are good at remembering names simply try harder and place a higher value on remembering names than others.

The good news is that you don't have to be a genius. Everyone can remember names if they work at it. Most of us just don't know how. Here is a system I have used to help myself remember names better.

The Five RE's to Remembering names:

1. REpeat Names

Repetition builds memory. This is why your math teacher assigned you 50 of the same math problems for homework every night. The more you repeat a person's name, the better chance you will have of remembering it later.

When you meet a person for the first time, say their name as much as possible. "Cool, Austin. Glad you are here, Austin. It was nice meeting you, Austin. Hope to see you next week, Austin." The more you say it, the more it will stick.

2. Read Names

Read a person's name in your mind. Visualize it. Spell it in your head. If you meet someone with an interesting name or a name that could be spelled multiple ways, ask them how they spell it. Then spell it in your head along with them. This may seem weird, but it works.

I can remember the names of hundreds of NFL athletes even though I have never met them or seen most of their faces without a helmet on. Why? Because I read their names every day on my favorite NFL news site.

3. Record Names

Keep a church database, or an app with people's names on it. After the service, write new names down as soon as possible. Add little notes like "Natalie - married, two kids, husband Jeff, works at..."

Quickly review your notes once a week and picture the people in your mind. If you have a church database with people's pictures, that is even better!

4. Relate Names

This is the most powerful memory tip on the list. When you hear a person's name, find an image to relate it to.

For example, take a guy named John Baker, and imagine an actual  baker in a kitchen putting a toilet - a john - in the oven. Yes, this is absolutely bizarre sounding, but it works! In fact, this is what world memory champions do.

In the fascinating book, Moonwalking With Einstein, Joshua Foer writes about his experience transforming in one year from an average guy who was bad at remembering names to winning the US Memory Championship. This is a competition where you have to do things like look at a list of hundreds of names and faces, then remember all the names of each face.

"The secret to success in the names-and-faces event-and to remembering people's names in the real world-is simply to turn Bakers into bakers-or Foers into fours. Or Reagans into ray guns. It's a simple trick, but highly effective." ~Joshua Foer, Moonwalking With Einstein

Our brains remember images, not words. So turning a person's name into an image is the best way to instantly recall it. The more vivid and bizarre the image, the better.

5. Remember to Remember Names

I know, "Thank you captain obvious!" Just hear me out.

Most often, the reason that we don't remember names is simply because we do not consciously make an effort. We hear the name, but we are too busy thinking about what we are going to say next. Maybe we are preoccupied with the stress of the service or what we have to do later. Whatever the reason, we don't intentionally listen to the name and make a conscious effort to store it away.

If you are intentional about remembering people's names, you will remember them.

Hope these tips are helpful for you. If anything, practice #4. I guarantee you will have a hard time forgetting the image of a baker stuffing a toilet in an oven.

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About Brandon Hilgemann

Brandon has been on a nine-year journey to become the best preacher he can possibly be. During this time, he has worked in churches of all sizes, from a church plant to some of the largest and fastest growing churches in the United States. Brandon blogs his thoughts and ideas from his journey at ProPreacher.com.

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